With the PGA Tour’s annual December hiatus now in the rear-view mirror, as the calendar flips over to 2019, another 11 months of thrilling golf action awaits an insatiable public.
2018 brought us many unforgettable victories, moments, and heroes, as well as promise for even greater things in the near future.
The initial PGA Tour event of the 2019 portion of the season begins where it has for nearly two decades: the par-73 Plantation Course at the Hawaiian Paradise of Oahu’s Kapalua Resort.
The field is abbreviated, with just 34 players set to tee off this week, but as diverse as the field is, they share one thing in common: each has won a PGA Tour event in the past 12 months.
The exclusive list of participants includes the elite of the elites in golf: world No. 1 Brooks Koepka – the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, defending champion Dustin Johnson (No. 3), 2017 Kapalua winner Justin Thomas (No. 4), and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy (No. 8), as well as a few guys who were surprise winners in 2018, such as world No. 121 Ted Potter Jr., No. 127 Brice Garnett, No. 187 Troy Merritt, and No. 282 Michel Kim.
In a tournament where every player has the mental aptitude and endurance to reach the pinnacle of the golf world, the Sentry Tournament of Champions competition promises to be fierce.
1. McIlroy’s Irish Eyes Are… Focused Exclusively on the PGA TOUR Schedule
On the eve of this past fall’s DP World Tour Championship – the European Tour’s grand finale, Rory McIlroy dropped a stink bomb on tour officials by hinting he’s considering a forfeiture of his European Tour card for 2019.
“I don’t know,” said McIlroy when asked if he would renew his European Tour membership. “I am starting my year off in the States and that will be the big focus of mine up until the end of August (playoffs) and then we will assess from there.”
McIlroy, who will turn 30 in May, traditionally starts his year on the European Tour, usually in Dubai, and often wouldn’t make his U.S. debut until Florida.
Now married, and looking at a restructured PGA Tour schedule offering more cadence with the PLAYERS (March) and PLAYOFFS (August) book-ending four-straight months of majors, McIlroy would seem to be settling his roots firmly in the States.
“I’ve got a couple of ‘pure’ European Tour events on my schedule up until the end of August,” continued McIlroy. “I guess my thing is that I want to play against the strongest fields week-in and week-out and for the most part of the season that is in America.”
2. Young Guns Rahm, DeChambeau Seek to Keep the Heat
Any list of the PGA Tour’s best young stars would surely include Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau. The two young superstars, both also known for their fiery temperament, enter Kapalua with off-season wins.
Rahm, the 24-year old Spaniard, made just three starts – all at elite-field events, following the season-ending Tour Championship, and was impressive, highlighted by a four-shot win at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
Also looking to remain red hot is DeChambeau, who – following a disappointing Ryder Cup debut – scored a win at the Shriners in Vegas, one of just two off-season starts for the SMU product.
DeChambeau, who won twice in the FedExCup playoffs, has three wins in his last five official starts on the PGA Tour.
3. JT Looking to Make it a Fab Fivesome
The next time Justin Thomas raises a trophy in a PGA Tour winner’s circle, it will mark the 10th title of his young career.
If he were to score a win this weekend – or any time before April 29th for that matter, he would become the just the fifth golfer in PGA Tour history to have captured double-digit trophies by the age of 25.
The winner of both Hawaiian events in 2017, Thomas, would join Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Jack Nicklaus, and Rory McIlroy – forming one impressive fivesome.
A 10th career victory by the former Alabama star would also make him one of only 12 “active” players with at least 10 wins, and one of only two born in the 90s. (Rory McIlroy, born in 1989, will turn 30 in May).
ACTIVE PLAYERS WITH AT LEAST 10 WINS
Tiger Woods – 42 (80)
Phil Mickelson – 48 (42)
Ernie Els – 49 (19)
Dustin Johnson – 34 (19)
Jim Furyk – 48 (17)
Rory McIlroy – 29 (14)
Adam Scott – 38 (13)
Jason Day – 31 (12)
Zach Johnson – 42 (12)
Bubba Watson – 40 (12)
Jordan Spieth – 25 (11)
Sergio Garcia – 38 (10)
4. DJ, Koepka Move Fight into 2019
Dustin Johnson has the opportunity to become the first back-to-back winner at Kapalua since Geoff Ogilvy in 2009-10.
A win by DJ would also inch him closer to retaking the No. 1 spot from (still?) good friend – and fellow Bash Brother, Brooks Koepka, who will also be teeing it up and looking for redemption.
Last season, the current world No. 1 finished dead last as he tried to fight through a wrist injury that would eventually shelve him for much of the early season.
Koepka finished third at this event in his debut (2016).
After winning his maiden major at the 2016 U.S. Open, DJ has found his way to the PGA Tour winner’s circle eight more times – equaled only by Justin Thomas over this time period (30 months), yet none of the eight wins secured a second major for the South Carolina native.
Koepka, meanwhile, has four Tour victories over the same time span – solid, but half of DJ’s haul. Yet three of Koepka’s four wins were of the major variety.
Whose record would you take over the past 30 months: Eight wins (including two WGCs and two Playoffs) valued at $11.21 million but no majors, or four wins (including 3 majors) totaling $8.01 million?
Joel Cook contributed to this post.